Interviews: March 2006 Archives

Thorogood's drink: Mix humor with blues

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'I am nothing if I am not funny,' guitarist says


TOM CONWAY
Tribune Correspondent

George Thorogood & The Destroyers have been playing their blues-flavored rock 'n' roll for more than three decades, an impressive and rare feat in the world of rock 'n' roll when you consider they've done so with the same core unit of guitarist Thorogood, drummer Jeff Simon and bassist Bill Blough.

When Thorogood started the band in 1973, however, he couldn't have anticipated that they would still be going strong 30 years later.

"I didn't even know if I would be living in 30 years," Thorogood says by telephone in a recent interview that proves time has not diminished his self-confidence or humor.

Thorogood is perhaps best known for his hit singles "Bad to the Bone," "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" and "I Drink Alone." A couple of his biggest songs -- his versions of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" and Hank Williams' "Move It on Over" -- almost didn't get recorded, however, and if Thorogood had had his way at the time, they wouldn't have.

"It is not that I didn't like the songs," he says. "I just didn't think there was any reason to record them. We needed four more songs to go on the record. Rounder Records chose 'Who Do You Love?' and Jeff Simon wanted to do 'Move It on Over.' Personally, I thought that 'Who Do You Love?' had been done so many times that there was no need to do it, and 'Move It on Over' really didn't do anything to me. I never saw the big thrill in that. But I was wrong. I was pleasantly surprised when people dug it."

Thorogood is not surprised that his songs are still being played after all this time, and he anticipates that they still will resonate with listeners for years to come.

"People are always going to drink, aren't they?" he says. "I hope that people will always have a sense of humor. Although, it is getting thinner and thinner as years go on. I am nothing if I am not funny. The saying 'bad' is here to stay. If it has lasted this long, there is a good chance that it will last longer."

Thorogood, however, is not as hopeful about the state of blues music today.

"The blues has hit its peak," he says. "It is just about done. There are no blues guys left. All of the original blues guys are gone. I mean, you get guys like me who carry on playing blues tunes, but the original blues masters have all passed on. They will still do blues records and blues documentaries and things like that. They will teach blues in Black History classes and things of that nature. There will always be someone playing it, but, it won't have the big rush that it did, say, 30 years ago, when (John Lee) Hooker was alive. Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Albert Collins, people like that, were still with us. Freddie King, Lightnin' Hopkins, it was still happening. But, it will continue in some form."

Does Thorogood think it likely he could follow his blues heroes, many of whom continued to perform until their deaths, and still be playing the blues in the year 2036?

"How do I see myself 30 years from now?" he says. "You are one hell of an optimist."

Thorogood says he will keep playing "until they stop paying me. As long as I make a decent living at it, there is no reason for me to stop."

There will be no cause for him to retire anytime soon, not with a fan base that has grown over the years.

"We have got them from all ages, from 10 to 110," he says. "I would say that they are pretty much the same as they were before but just a more diverse age. We get a lot of younger people coming to the shows, saying, 'What the hell is this all about, anyway?' "

Currently, Thorogood and the band -- with recent addition guitarist Jim Suhler and saxophone player Buddy Leach -- are working on a new album, a blues project that will be released this spring. In the past, Thorogood has recorded versions of songs from such blues greats as Hooker, Elmore James and Johnny Otis, so it can be assumed there will be cover versions on the new album.

"We don't really do covers," he says. "We do what you would call obscure material. Linda Ronstadt does covers. Rod Stewart does covers."

So, then, what will be on the new CD?

"A lot of covers," Thorogood says, laughing.

Thorogood found right job on his own

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By GORDON ENGELHARDT
March 23, 2006

Ever the showman on and off the stage, George Thorogood donned a pair of sunglasses before beginning an interview. A telephone interview.

It seems as if he was always destined for some kind of stardom. While his father wanted him to be a comedian, his mother wanted him to be a country singer because she thought, back in 1970 or '71, it would be the next big thing. She was about a decade and a half early.

Instead, Thorogood made his fortune playing hard-edged, booze-soaked, no-frills, blues-influenced rock 'n' roll that's "Bad to the Bone," to borrow from his 1982 staple. Thorogood and his Delaware Destroyers will bring their bad selves to The Centre for a concert Saturday. Texas-based rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed will open the show at 8 p.m.

"I liked all music when I was a kid: blues, rock 'n' roll, country and reggae," said Thorogood, known for his rough-hewn vocals, raucous guitar playing and flamboyant stage demeanor. "I don't think I can play (rock 'n' roll) any better or worse. I think it has to do with the songs I picked, the material I introduced to the mainstream."

He cites legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker's "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" as an example.

"I went after that sort of music," Thorogood said. "It's the best music I could play. I pretty much chose this music, not only out of passion but by a process of elimination."

Mining some of our best songwriters, Thorogood recorded definitive versions of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" and Hank Williams' "Move It on Over." Thorogood said he and the Destroyers originally played "Who Do You Love" at sound checks, never planning to put it on an album.

"The record company (Rounder) said that's what we need to sell records," he said. "I had no intention of putting it out because it had been overdone so many times. "I love his (Diddley's) tremolo sounds. It's very hypnotic. I hear that tremolo and it drives me crazy. To me, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry are both more responsible than anybody in bringing the electric guitar to the forefront. Chuck Berry knocked out the Beatles and Bo Diddley knocked out the Stones. The Beatles and the Stones were two of the biggest rock items to hit the '60s."

Thorogood has a wealth of admiration for Williams' pure country and disdain for what passes as country today: "Pop music with a cowboy hat." Once quoted as saying that it's difficult to write your own songs when you only know three chords, Thorogood is known for his covers. But "Bad to the Bone" is all his. He'd hoped Muddy Waters would record it, but was turned down flat. Diddley didn't have a record label.

"The only reason I did it is because I needed a signature piece," Thorogood said.

He also wanted to be known as more than somebody who was good at playing Chuck Berry tunes. "I had to step up and come up with something. Besides, if I hadn't written it, somebody else would have."

A former semi-pro baseball player, Thorogood found it easier to play guitar than hit a curveball. He prefers the lights of the concert stage, singing "House of Blue Lights," to playing baseball under the lights.

When asked, he said he was still wearing shades at the end of the interview.

"It's showbiz, baby," Thorogood said.

Bad to his funny bone

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ELKHART -- Trying to get a straight answer from George Thorogood is like trying to get a firm hold on a slippery slope -- it just ain't gonna happen.

And the chief of The Destroyers is the first one to admit it ... with great delight.

Heading to the Elco Theatre for a concert at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, he squeezed in a brief phone interview from somewhere out of town.

"Interviews," Thorogood pronounced (he does a lot of pronouncing), "are all the same.'

"Being funny adds a little flavor," he continued. "In interviews, rock stars always say 'I wrote it when in a deep depression or when my dog died.' No one wants to hear about that, so I do what I do.

"I make it fun."

And, in spite of every frustrating, off-the-wall response, it was.

Thorogood came "from a small Eastern state" (correctly identified as Delaware). He also is a history buff, the source of an amazing amount of trivia and a purveyor of long tall tales that seem plausible until, almost at the punch line, it becomes obvious that it is anything but.

It's probably true, however, that he ran away from home in the summer of '68 "with dreams of being a rock star."

"From day one I never had any doubt about doing it," he said. "It was not a hobby with me. Since age 15, I was going as far as my talent would take me."

It took him initially to Philadelphia, where he drifted away from rock because "when I started, it was not such a far-fetched idea ... to be a star. It gave me hope. Then bands like The Who and The Doors came along and they were the greatest and other bands started to fall by the wayside."

Listening to the blues "rekindled my ambition," he said. "I figured I could probably make a living as a bar band. It was better than digging ditches."

He credits that attitude with things starting to open up and adds, "I learned to play guitar at 21." True? Not true? Who knows?

Thorogood also said he wanted to be a standup comic.

"I do a lot of that," he said, declaring as proof "we're the funniest band there is. I'm not Neil Young or Tom Petty. That's just not me. Steve Miller's not 'The Joker.' I am."

Categorizing himself and his band as "the Three Stooges with guitars," he said, "the lyrics are pretty much intentionally funny," and protested (very emphatically) a suggestion that most of his "110 songs" reference drinking.

Checking over his song list, however, seemed to substantiate this suggestion. No matter.

Not surprising when he admitted, "My ideas for songs come from everywhere. If I see a beautiful woman, I write a song about a beautiful woman. If I see a train wreck, I write about a train wreck. If I see ..." You get the picture.

Best known for his list of 1980s hits, Thorogood is anticipating the release of his new CD, "The Hard Stuff," which will be out in May.

Meanwhile, he still pleases audiences with hits compiled during more than 30 years in the business ... and serves as his own best public relations person.

"We're very good," he said. "People love us a lot ... especially women."

Yep. "Bad to the Bone."

Interview @ enigmaonline

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Many thanks to Mr. Weinthal for a terrific interview!

MARCH 15, 2006
George Thorogood

BY DAVE WEINTHAL

George Thorogood is a larger than life character, who with his band The Destroyers have a number of songs that remain not only popular but revered after all these years. When you hear the phrase,

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